Winter is Coming

Yesterday was Friday the thirteenth, and I can be a little superstitious sometimes, so I was wondering what kind of bad luck could come up. It´s been an incredible autumn, a season we Icelanders aren’t so used to having, so basically it seemed like an endless summer. Usually we have winter, and not-winter, and in a week from now, the nights will officially be longer than the days. But, as luck would have it, winter came blowing in, with snowfall on the mountain tops, the leaves blown to sunders, and the last of the green grass has actually died overnight. The first frost has arrived.

Autumn colors for Freyfaxi’s fashion

I´m a little like the geese in Iceland, who start heading further and further south as winter nears. My nickname has recently become Katrin Snow, because of my constant Game of Thrones reference, “Winter is Coming.” But it really is coming.

My view from home, under Esja

I’ve seen northern lights three times this week, but somehow the handful of tourists in town for nearly the same amount of time haven’t been lucky enough to spot them. The grass has turned yellow and the trees have lost their leaves. The sheep have all come down from the mountains, and even the last of the horses are home. The foxes have turned white, but the snow has only reached the mountain tops, so the foxes aren’t blending into the countryside so well.

Watched a fox try to camo into this field (unsuccessfully) and then later watched the northern lights from this hottub at Ion Adventure Hotel

I’m no longer working with horses, and my main riding horse has gotten his irons taken off for his 8 month winter vacation. Now I’m working a bit at Sumac Grill + Drinks, Reykjavik’s newest and hippest restaurant (and home of Icelands Chef of the year 2017 Hafsteinn Ólafsson) to save up some extra money for a long season of travel. Working at such a trendy place has lots of perks – the President’s wife came by, the former mayor´s (leader of the ´Best Party´) daughter, actors and actresses from the last TV series I watched have popped in, and all the city’s best chefs and bartenders come to check us out. Björk didn’t get in, because she didn´t have a table reservation, and sometimes there are over 70 people on the waiting list. But there´s always someone from a past travel time passing thru Reykjavik, and they all manage to visit at Sumac.

Hiking from Glymur waterfall in fall

You know winter is coming when ads for Christmas concerts start airing on the radio and the holiday section of stores start selling Christmas stuff. I´m ready for a one way ticket out of here, and Cape Town on Wednesday sounds like a plan.

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Sumac Grill + Drinks

There´s a new restaurant in town, and its officially opened as of today. Its in downtown Reykjavik, in the middle of everything 101, on Laugavegur 28, where the old Bunk Bar and hostel was. The entire interior has been torn apart and redone, designed by non other than Halfdán Petersen, the designer of the oh-so-popular Kex hostel and Iceland´s first Michelin star restaurant Dill. A selection of plates and pots are individually hand made by potter and ceramic artist Hanna Gréta in Hafnafjörður, such that no two are stained the same way or have the same pattern.

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Sumac Grill + Drinks, bar side

The owner and master mind behind the concept and menu is Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon, arguably Iceland´s best chef (okay, I´m a little biased), and has competed, placed, and won in enough cooking competitions and shows around the world that he´s definitely one of the world´s top chefs. The head chef is his friend and prized chef Hafsteinn Ólafsson, and a few other industry-recognized names fill the bar and wait staff. Me, myself, and I, are the hostess and rose and tree keeper.

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sumac infused gin and ginger beer in a copper cup

The menu is inspired by Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine, using influences, flavours and spices from the Mediterranean coast and middle east – not only in the food, but also in cocktails and deserts. Sumac, popularly used in Turkish cuisine, is a deep red, sun-dried berry, giving a little spicy kick and citrus hint to their signature cocktail, Sumac, and their made-from-scratch yogurt ice cream which tastes like roses.

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cauliflower, baby potatoes and salmon in their various clay plates and steel pans

The best sellers (so far) are definitely the grilled cauliflower head and za´atar flat bread with hummus and almond red pepper dip. The can´t miss items include the Berber chicken liver mousse, grilled octopus legs, and 100% vegan pistachio ice cream with chick-pea meringue. My personal favourites are the kumquat salmon drizzled with fennel froth, the crispy baby potatoes with Icelandic chorizo sausage, the pork belly tagine (actually cooked and served in a Moroccan clay tagine pot), and the Hilo cocktail, topped off with an organic Icelandic red-rose petal.

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Sumac Grill + Drinks, kitchen side

Find Sumac on facebook, follow them on instagram @sumacgrilldrinks, or feel free to leave their first review on trip advisor. The official website (including the menu and wine list) can be found at Sumac.is, where you can make a dinner reservation. Otherwise just give us a call, +354 537 9900! I may even answer the phone personally 😉

 

Its nice to be home

Beautiful Dalvik, in Eyjafjordur

I´m back in Iceland, as it turns out, year after year, this at least stays the same. Iceland is wonderful for Christmas and New Years, but otherwise, May to September, what some could call spring, summer and fall, (or rather, ´not-winter´), are wonderful months, where I always feel like I’m at home. The smell of fresh, clean air and drinking ice cold water out of the tap that tastes like nothing are always two of my favourite things to do the moment I land. Within a few hours after that, I’ve found some natural hot pot or public swimming pool with steaming water to soak my tired bones.

Grettislaug, in Skagafjordur

No return home would be complete without a drunken party with my old Norse friends, a roadtrip to some remote, northern part of Iceland, visiting my horses, and pretending to be young and hip down Laugavegur downtown. In two weeks, Ive checked all of those boxes (some twice), but the horse situation is getting complicated and being ´home´, which is now my dad´s house, has been a little lonely.

Into the Glacier!

But, staying in the same place for more than 2 nights in a row is quite the anomaly anyway, so I’ve already spent half my time traveling around Iceland with friends. A friend of New York was in town and we went north to Skagafjordur. My best friend wanted to celebrate his birthday in one of Icelands boutique countryside hotels in Husafell so we did that, just after visiting Langjokull glacier with a Venezuelan photographer friend. I had a crazy horse in the north I had to ´deal´with (don´t worry, he´s still alive), and two horses I tried to ride home from Borgafjordur. We got more than half way, but then it started to get cold again and dad had to go to the hospital.

my Icelandic father, brother, and nephew

Now my horses are home, but not dad, but both my sisters will be visiting soon. Its weird to feel so much at home and be the only one at home (dads house is kind of out in the countryside of Reykjavik), and even weirder to have all this free time where I’m not traveling or moving or planning anything.

my horses at home

Needless to say, Ive gotten some rest and expanded my livelihood beyond the limits of my backpack, but of course theres already another trip in the works. Before my horse riding guiding season in Iceland starts, I figure I´ll have to get get my butt in saddle shape somewhere before. Anyone else want to come to Kyrgyzstan in June?

fun with Steve in Haugsnes

Iceland wins Bocuse de Bronze 2017

Iceland has been competing in the prestigious cooking competition Bocuse d’or since 1999. For chefs, this is like making it to the culinary Olympics. Iceland has always qualified in the regional Bocuse d’or Europe to compete in the worldwide Bocuse d’or, and never placed lower than the top 9 countries in each competition. In 2001, chef Hakon Mar was the first to land on the podium, with a third place Bronze, an extraordinary accomplishment for a tiny nation, often overlooked as a foody place, like Iceland.

Bocuse de Bronze winners!!

Bocuse de Bronze winners!!

Since then, a lot has changed. Scandinavian countries have become fashionable leaders in Europe’s culinary scene, and Iceland has finally become a world-renowned tourist destination, not only for nature tourism, but for also for gourmandes. The competition has also changed, becoming much bigger, better and far more complicated to win each year. The level of cooking in 2017 would have shunned the first podium winners with their abilities in 1987.

Bocuse d'or Team Iceland setting up their box

Bocuse d’or Team Iceland setting up their box

It takes one year to prepare for the regional competition (there are 3 regions: Latin America, Europe, and Asia), and another year for the top qualifiers (plus a few additional wild card countries) to compete at the biennial Bocuse d’or Concours Mondial in Lyon. Its named after Paul Bocuse, one of France’s most famous chefs and a leader in fine dining history.

The French commis looking back

The French commis looking back

This year, Iceland had over 150 supporters follow the candidat Viktor Orn to Lyon. After winning 5th place in the Bocuse Europe competition, and having 4 other previous candidates supporting and trainng him, he also had an amazing coach, Sigurdur Helgason, and a commis that would have definitely won Best Commis if they hadn’t landed on the podium.

Selfies with all the famous chefs (clockwise from top left: Bocuse d'or Gold 2015 Norwegian Orjan; Bocuse Europe 2016 winner Hungarian Tomas; 3 time Bocuse podium placer Danish Rasmus, and the USA Bocuse team coach Thomas Keller

Selfies with all the famous chefs (clockwise from top left: Bocuse d’or Gold 2015 Norwegian Orjan; Bocuse Europe 2016 winner Hungarian Tomas; 3 time Bocuse podium placer Danish Rasmus, and the USA Bocuse team coach Thomas Keller

The French team had the best commis, and European winner Hungary placed 4th just after Iceland. In second place was Norway, and for the first time ever, the USA won gold. All the winners went to Paul Bocuse’s restaurant for breakfast after the competition and met the now 91 year old legend himself. Viktor’s name has been permanently engraved in a shiny plaque, a walk of fame for all the winners of Bocuse d’or since 1987. Now with 2 Icelanders having mastered the competition, its only up from here. Despite being a nation of only 300,000 with a handful of good restaurants, its amazing to think that we could easily be shaping the next silver or gold Bocuse d’or candidate. Stay tuned til 2019!

A New Year begins in Iceland

Me and winter aren’t the best of friends, and I usually like traveling the full 8 months of Icelandic winter, but if I’m going to take a break from traveling, the holidays are the best time of year to take a break at home.

Iceland has a very special Christmas season; it actually lasts for 13 days (arguably 26 if you count the days all the yule lads come to town and leave presents in your shoe), so the last day of Christmas, also called ‘the Thirteenth,’ happens after New Years.

New Years Eve in Iceland is also special; its one of the few cities in the world you can actually hear midnight happen. Millions of kronurs of fireworks are exploded and showered over Reykjavik between 11:30 and 12:15, and the skies are full of lights, colours and smoke. It’s a little like bombs over Baghdad, plus the possibility of Northern Lights in the background – try to find that somewhere else in the world.

downtown Reykjavik on Christmas eve

downtown Reykjavik on Christmas eve

The weather has been very cooperative. Over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there was the most festive sprinkle of fluffy snow flakes falling quietly down over an already white winter wonderland. Then there were some storms, rains, and plus 7°c weather that iced it up and washed it all way. But for New Years, everything went cold and crispy again, no snow or rain fall, enough snow on the ground to brighten the night, and the clear, still skies welcomed the colourful explosions that actually last the whole night, with a deafening climax around midnight.

New Years resolution #1: go for more walks

New Years resolution #1: go for more walks

Then everyone makes their New Years Resolutions; the gyms get totally overcrowded the first week of January. People exchange unwanted Christmas presents and go bonkers shopping the sales and old year clearances. And ‘the Thirteenth’ happens, on January 6th, which is the last day you can legally set off fireworks, so the last day of Christmas is also sent booming into the sky, with screams and screeches and flashes of lights.

Dad at his birthday Gala Dinner

Dad at his birthday Gala Dinner

January 7th was my fathers 65th birthday. We celebrated in black tie dress-code of course – he was finally home after 5 weeks in the hospital and officially retired, so now the old man’s really an old man. He’s recovering from kidney failure, which means hes attached to a dialysis machine every night, but free to play all day and evening. We started the date with a Baejarinns Beztu hotdog, then attended a Viennese Concert by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, and capped the night off at the Icelandic Chef Association Gala dinner at Harpa. We were seated one table away from the president, and rubbed shoulders with all sorts of important and/or wealthy guests, but explained to everyone he was a retired teacher and I was an unemployed tour guide and didn’t seem to feel excluded.

I'll miss this sight!

I’ll miss this sight!

Now it’s time to hit the road again. Christmas is over, New Years and birthday celebrations are behind us, and we can no longer burn our money in the form of fire works, so its time to go spend it on the road. First stop is Barcelona; why? Because I found a one way ticket for a direct flight (4hrs15mins!) for 80 euros and the days there are twice as long and twice as bright. Of course the weather is better than in Iceland, though not great at this time of year according to Spaniards, but having the sun shine on the top of my head and actually feel the heat of its rays is sometimes enough. Sunshine, here I come.

Home Sweet Home

Its wonderful to come home after months of traveling. Not only have I been away from home, but also homeless, in a sense of the word. On the road I’m constantly seeking out accommodation, either as the guest at someone else’s home, or the couchsurfer on some strangers couch. Not that I’m complaining… but its nice to finally be home again.

the natural geothermal area of Kyrsuvik

the natural geothermal area of Kyrsuvik

being a tourist at Gullfoss

being a tourist at Gullfoss

At the moment ‘home’ is Dad’s house, in the ‘countryside’ (this has a better ring to it in Icelandic). My bed is actually a couch there, but its my couch so I love sleeping on it. I missed drinking tap water, ice cold straight from the source, and showering in hot water that kind of smells like rotten eggs. But its okay because its smells like home.

I love bathing in open air, in an assortment of pools and hottubs, even the ice-cold sea, because there’s never a steam room or hot shower too far away. The wind on my wet skin and ice under my toes doesn’t even bother me after I’ve stayed long enough in the hottest hottub, and sometimes I purposely dip in the cold tub or sea just to remember how much more I love the heat.

Iceland is still one of my favourite countries to travel, especially impromptu road trips

Iceland is still one of my favourite countries to travel, especially impromptu road trips

The sun doesn’t rise until after 11 am and sets around 3 pm… and the days have gotten shorter every day. Tomorrow will be the shortest day of the year, but I don’t mind, because that means every day after that until June 21 will be longer. Its cold, but not that cold, so I was happy to clean the snow off my car yesterday for the first time – it might mean that we’ll have a white Christmas, even though every day last week was warmer than in London, New York or Vancouver.

some random, friendly horses

some random, friendly horses

I’ve been home nearly a week now, and the only thing I’m still missing are the Northern Lights and my horses. Both are within reach, so I don’t feel homesick anymore, but it’s amazing how you can’t get enough of home even when you’re finally home. Oh home, sweet home.

Photo Highlights: A Summer of Riding in Iceland

the calm before the storm - an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

the calm before the storm – an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

After 7 week-long tours and 2 sheep round up weekends, my summer of riding in Iceland has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet moment, since my butt and back are surely happy to not spend another hour in the saddle, but as soon as the last ride is over, I already start to miss the horses.

the lose herd is one of Iceland's signature horse tour characteristics

the lose herd is one of Iceland’s signature horse tour characteristics

Here are a few photos from a summer of riding Kjölur, Mývatn, The Golden Circle, Þveráhlíð and Melrakkasletta.

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

If you´re looking to book a riding tour in Iceland next summer, check out Ishestar´s long list of short and long tours on offer (some are even available all year round!).

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Other operators that I´d also highly recommend are Exploring Iceland, Riding Iceland, and Hestasport in Skagafjordur, North Iceland.

my second Kjölur group

my second Kjölur group under Langjökull glacier